Letter: Oxford will not shun Said's gift

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The Independent Online
Sir: The Congregation of Oxford University did indeed vote against allocating a particular site to the new business school which hopes to receive the massive benefaction of Wafic Said but did not vote against the business school as such, nor against Mr Said, nor against the benefaction ("Oxford dons vote against business school project", 6 November) .

Most of the 260 who voted against the proposal to let this particularly sensitive site be used were moved by concern about the undertaking made by Congregation over 30 years ago to leave the site green "in perpetuity". Some objected to the secrecy which had shrouded the project for a year or two and/or failed to understand the reason for this (that Mr Said wanted to avoid embarrassment to his son, who had been a student here). Some were worried that the foundation which would govern the business school might become aloof from the general democracy of dons by which all of the affairs of Oxford are run; some that the university staff would lose a cherished set of sports facilities. Only one individual, reported by you, delivered a tirade against the real or imagined business dealings of the benefactor. Most speakers, on both sides, expressed gratitude for the money on offer.

Most of those present were satisfied that these qualms were either misplaced or were being answered. It seems at least to me that the vote will not result in any long-term setback to the development of Business Studies, which has been established for many years now at this university. And if the views of the wider university community were tested in a postal vote, it is likely that the decision would go a different way.

The problem was that a decision in a great matter was being pivoted upon the change of use of a cricket pitch, and a coalition developed of disparate objectors. It would be unfortunate if Mr Said or the members of his foundation abreacted as a result of the setback after devoting so much time and energy to this project. Oxford values its democracy more highly than its short- term reputation and the result, very frequently, is that people, inside this place as well as outside, receive slaps in the face when a warm embrace would be more immediately welcome. But in due course, great projects are brought off and objections subside, and the debate is seen to have enriched rather than impoverished the ultimate result.

ANTHONY SMITH

President

Magdalen College, Oxford

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